Black teenager launches racial justice project in Nova Scotia
Have you heard about the SaltWire News app?
Daily fall forecasts and weather facts from Cindy Day
SaltWire's cartoonists bring heart and humour to the news.
SaltWire Selects: Our arts and entertainment picks
What you need to know about COVID-19: September 25, 2020
The Calgary Flames made it through four games of the National Hockey League Stanley Cup qualifying round unscathed.
Aside from typical bumps and bruises that occur during a series, being healthy as they kick off the official start to the post-season — against the Dallas Stars starting Tuesday — is a good thing and somewhat rare for this time of the year.
But with no second-guessing of lines, no need for their reserve squad to step into action, it’s benefited their group so far in having some fluidity in their lineup, at least to eliminate the Winnipeg Jets in their play-in series.
“Obviously, it’s been huge,” said Flames defenceman Mark Giordano who has been (surprise, surprise) on a pairing with longtime partner TJ Brodie, eating the majority of the minutes against Winnipeg’s top players. “At the start of this, we were all fresh. Every team had guys who were fresh and not a lot of injuries. But as you saw during the first play-in round, there were some injuries and guys get banged up and our team is no different.
“But that’s one of the strengths of our team is being able to roll four lines and maybe even out the minutes so we can avoid injuries.”
And spread out the scoring, which makes them a deep threat.
The Flames’ top trio of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm combined for six goals and six assists in the four games against the Jets, although two of those goals were empty-netters, yet they’ve been noticeably solid defensively. Also chipping in were the likes of the second line of Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane and the third line of Milan Lucic, Sam Bennett and Dillon Dube, both with nine points for each threesome. The fourth line has been effective, too, with Tobias Rieder, Derek Ryan and Mark Jankowski/Zac Rinaldo, providing energy.
The forwards, along with three regular defensive pairings, have been able to gain chemistry. That was a big reason why they were able to dominate the Jets in the last two games of the series.
A healthy (and capable) Cam Talbot made a difference, too.
“We really believe we need to be a four-line team at this time of the year,” pointed out Flames head coach Geoff Ward on his daily media availability via Zoom. “We believe it gives us the best chance to be successful. The fact we’ve got guys that can play in all different situations is good for us. We have guys that are not in the lineup that are playing extremely well and are showing us they’re ready to be in the lineup.
“We feel real confident that if we were to run into a couple of injuries, touch wood, that we would have some guys that would be ready to come in.”
Those “guys” are considered their Black Aces, a reserve group of players with NHL playoff experience — including forwards Alan Quine and Austin Czarnik, along with defenceman Michael Stone — and have continued staying ready in the event of injuries.
Anything can happen at this time of the year, from groin tweaks to hamstring pulls to knee injuries, you name it — or, in the case of the 2020 post-season this summer, it could be a positive COVID-19 test.
“We’ve been fortunate in the fact that we’ve been able to continue to play all of our people,” Ward noted. “But we also understand we have some really good depth and if we need to get to those people, due to how hard our guys are playing with injuries and whatnot, we’ll have guys that are ready to step in and take the ball when they get their chance. It’s been a strength of our team, we’ve talked about it all year and right now, we’re seeing it.”
While the Jets’ 3-2 victory in Game 2 last Tuesday was, of all the clashes, Calgary’s weakest effort of the series (and prompted Ward to swap out Rinaldo for Jankowski). But taking advantage of the fact Winnipeg was banged up and missing key stars — the opposite of the Flames — they were able to roll four lines and three pairings handily in the 6-2 and 4-0 victories that sealed the deal.
They can’t expect every game from here on in will be as smooth as that, and situations will, of course, dictate certain lineup changes.
Yet, at the moment, it’s business as usual for their entire group.
“Everybody on our team can play and everybody is playing well,” said Tkachuk. “I liked everyone’s game the first round. When you’re leading in games, it’s easier to roll four and play simple. But when you’re chasing the game, that’s when the bench gets shortened a little bit and guys aren’t playing as much as they should or guys are playing more than they normally do. It’s not the best recipe when you’re trailing. As long as we can get the lead, play like that and roll four lines, it’s the best recipe to keep everybody healthy and fresh during the game, that’s when we’re going to be at our best.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020